An introduction to brutalist architecture

Brutalism can be divisive. But love it or hate it, there is no doubt that it is one of the most important and iconic architectural movements in modern history. In the UK, some of the most famous buildings in the capital, especially artistic centres, are monoliths of brutalist architecture. This includes the National Theatre, the Barbican and the Southbank Centre.

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What is brutalism?

The term brutalism derives from the French term ‘beton brut’, which means ‘raw concrete’. It is typified by a stark utilitarian aesthetic, usually using materials such as concrete and steel. ‘Beton brut’ refers specifically to a style of laying concrete in moulds, in which the end result is not finished or polished, leaving imprints of the moulding tools and giving it a raw look.

But of course, not every building made of concrete is described as ‘brutalist’ – it is more than that. Brutalist buildings often have a blocky appearance, although not always, like this example by le Corbusier, where he uses curves to soften the striking brise soleil.

The drawbacks of brutalism

Despite its raw beauty, building with concrete can have its drawbacks, mainly environmental. Not only is it carbon intensive, but building large swaths of concrete can also create biodiversity deserts.

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They can also become incredibly hot during heatwaves. There are ways homeowners can reduce the impact of this of course, including the introduction of brise soleil type shading from specialists such as which will protect against interior solar heating.

Visitors to the Barbican will also be wowed by the stunning use of greenery and water that not only softens the visual impact of the concrete but also helps keep the estate cooler and supports biodiversity.

Despite its history, brutalism is still an architectural short-hand for modern beauty.

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